The Bear Facts

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The Bear Facts

Discover one of Europe's best-kept secrets in Asturias, where brown bear populations are thriving in beautiful untouched landscapes

Even by the standards of tourism board boasts, 'Natural Paradise' feels like a bold claim to make. And yet, in the case of Asturias - whose slogan it is - the phrase is more than justified.
A third of this Spanish province's territory is environmentally protected, so unscathed landscapes stretch for miles across fertile valleys and mighty rivers, before meeting the sea along Asturias' extensive Atlantic coast.

Still largely undiscovered by the thronging masses of tourists who flock to other parts of Spain each year, Asturias is becoming increasingly popular as an ecotourism destination. The region's six Unesco-listed Biosphere Reserves include the peaceful lakes of Somiedo Nature Park and the enchanting forests of Oscos-Eo.
Arguably the jewel in the crown of Asturias' natural offerings, the Cantabrian Mountains count some of Spain's most famous ranges among them. They include the dramatic Picos de Europa, which also make up one of the region's Biosphere Reserves.

It's deep in these Cantabrian peaks that the region's most precious wildlife can be found. Rich in bio-indicator species that reflect the area's robust environmental health, Asturias is home to everything from the iconic Iberian wolf to the obscure wallcreepers of the Picos de Europa, via rare Cantabrian capercaillies and resplendent golden eagles.
But perhaps the area's biggest draw - and certainly one of Asturias' greatest conservational success stories - is the Cantabrian brown bear. Two sub-species of these majestic mammals exist in the Cantabrian range, with around 30 bears belonging to the eastern sub-population and 200 to the larger western sub-population.

Conservation efforts have been rigorous here, and improvements to the bear's habitat have prompted an increase in numbers on these mountains. The most recent estimate of 230 bears compares to a recording of just 70 in 1994 - and there is evidence of growing contact between the two sub-populations.
One of the best times to see the bears is in spring, when mother bears venture out with their cubs to forage for grass and shoots. Bilberry season in the early autumn also offers opportunities for bear-spotting, with the animals busy preparing for hibernation by filling up on chestnuts and acorns. It surprises many to learn that the diet of an Asturian bear is more than 80 per cent vegetarian, with meat content coming largely from carrion.

A number of local tourism companies operate bear-spotting activities in the area, but independent wildlife watchers can make use of the region's various fauna observatories.
There are also a number of themed trails designed to help visitors discover more about not only the bears, but also the different species of deer in the Cantabrian mountains. Red deer, roe deer and Cantabrian ibex pepper this rugged terrain, and many wildlife enthusiasts on a bear-watching trip take the opportunity to look out for hooved mammals, too.

If the scope for wildlife-watching here seems too good to be true, discover Asturias for yourself. To explore this fascinating corner of Spain is to unearth a habitat so breathtaking, it's no surprise so many species call it home.
The bear necessities: spotting brown bears in Asturias
• Close encounters: the bear is a wild animal and must be observed at a safe distance, particularly if she is a mother with young cubs.
• Walk and talk: bears have a powerful sense of smell and also hear very well, but are short-sighted, so talking and making noise as you walk through a bear area will help prevent the bear becoming startled by your presence and running away.
• Patience is truly a virtue: the bears can be elusive and appear where you least expect them, so be prepared for a wait.

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